Books in her Voice

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When the Grasshopper reads, I wonder what she hears.

When I read, I used to hear the words in my head as if I was speaking with the voices of the characters, as if they were telling the story to me in my own voice.  I would carefully pronounce strange names in my mind and almost whisper the dialogue.  By middle school, I lost that.  Too many books, too fast, and my reading pace increased from a clip to a run.  Now, I don’t hear voices at all when I read.  A cousin of mine in Japan talked about reading Kanji, how it is like an instant data dump of information into your mind.  For me, so is reading English.  I don’t have time to hear the words or the voices.  The book simply connects with my brain and we sync our data.  I like the intimacy of this.  The words disappear and instead of letters and punctuation, I see colors and hills and people living their lives.  I step into an alternate reality like Neil Stephenson’s Metaverse.

Still, looking over at my daughter reading, her lips whispering the words, I wonder.  Does she hear the words in her head yet?  Do the characters speak to her in her own voice?

 

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Maturity is Like a Gate

This morning, while waiting for the bus, the Grasshopper looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I think our family would be better if we were only three.”

I knew she was talking about Cricket who is three and going through a tough time.  Last night, while my older daughter and I were trying to read before bed, an activity that is sacred to us, my little one shouted, shrieked, asked questions, blew raspberries, and generally did everything she could to interrupt reading time.  It was frustrating for all of us, most of all for the Grasshopper who felt the deep unfairness of the situation.  Why couldn’t she just have a few peaceful minutes of reading time with her mama?

This morning, though, my heart broke when I heard her words.  I wanted to put the words back in her mouth, to tell her to never say such a mean thing.  Instead, I took a deep breath and gave thanks for her trust in me.  How hard it must have been for her to entrust that dark secret to me?  I hugged her and struggled with a way to explain things to her.

This is what I told her:

Sometimes your brain has ideas on things that might be interesting to do or say.  But, you know, it’s not always a good idea to do or say those things.  Sometimes you look back after you make a choice and think, “I wish I had not done that.”  It’s like there is a gate in there, right?  That gate lets you make a choice to let some stuff out and keep some stuff in.

Three-year-olds don’t have a gate at all.  They just let everything out, whether or not it is the right thing to do at the time.  In a lot of ways, they can’t help it.  We help them build their gate by teaching them when their behavior is appropriate and when it is not.  Just like when we helped you build your gate.

You’ve got a pretty good gate right now, don’t you think?  It helps you to behave in appropriate ways and make the right choices about what you say and do.  Sure, sometimes stuff slips through even when you’re trying to hold it closed.  Like yesterday when you did the crazy dance before bed and got in trouble for being too loud at bedtime, remember?  And I will let you in on a secret.  Adults have gates, too.  Sometimes my gate lets the wrong thing out and I make choices that I shouldn’t make.  We own our gates, and we need to keep a careful eye on when we open them to let things out and when we close them.

We will keep helping your sister build her gate, and I promise things will get better.

 

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Drastic Steps: Facebook Detox

Tonight I did something dramatic. I deleted the Facebook apps from both of my iPads, removed the links and shortcuts from my computer, and posted a note telling people to call me or email me.

I’m setting a trial period. 3 weeks with no Facebook. I’m looking at it as a social experiment, but really I need to get it out of the way because it’s really interfering with my ability to be present with my children. Plus, I am sick of the drama brought to me by people I don’t know in real life and wouldn’t recognize if they walked past me on the street.

This evening, while watching Nickelodeon with the kids, there was a commercial with all these kids in amazing situations: camping, in a treehouse, at the beach, and you know what that commercial was for? Nintendo DS. Instead of enjoying the world around them and the amazing places they were blessed enough to be able to go to, they had their faces crammed into a video game. Like it was a good thing! I felt sick seeing that. I don’t want that for my kids.

I guess you could say this whole thing was inspired by one of my hyperemesis gravidarum sisters who recently left Facebook. I thought the idea had merit, but I was too afraid to cut loose.

Tonight sealed the deal for me though, if you don’t mind the horrible cliche. It’s been an awful day. Road construction kept Cricket from napping at all. She’s been cranky and miserable all day. Tonight, I’ve been completely exhausted and tuned out. The Grasshopper was in the tub and Cricket was running around, so I decided to pop in and check Facebook. Well, that turned into way, way too long of me sitting around doing God only knows what for God only knows how long. Seriously, what do you do on Facebook that takes that long anyway? How many Upworthy links, Sherlock gifs, and circumcision arguments can you read anyway?

During the time that I was farting around on Facebook, I heard them playing and reasoned that as long as they were laughing, it was all good. How wrong I was. I came into the bathroom to discover that the Grasshopper had poured several gallons of water from the tub onto the floor, telling her sister that the dog had peed. Cricket, who gets upset when the (elderly and incontinent) dog pees on the floor, was mopping it up with every single washcloth in the house. Not cool. I could not believe how much water was on the floor.

I ended up yelling really bad at the Grasshopper (not something I’m proud of), and having to mop up the whole mess, carry it downstairs, and run a load of laundry. She is grounded from TV through the weekend, which is a bummer because there is a Ninja Turtles marathon on.

And you know what? If I had just been present with them, none of this would have happened.

So goodbye Facebook. I’m just not able to have you in my life right now. I can’t be a good parent with you stealing my attention and I can’t seem to break away from your hypnotic grasp.

My plan is to start with 3 weeks. 3 weeks cold turkey. From there, I will see what happens. I will severely limit my feed to people I know in real life or people who I regularly have positive interactions with. I plan to reduce the number of groups I’m in pretty severely, too.

It’s going to be hard. I usually use Facebook as a way to make contact with my friends and plan outings with my mommy buddies, so I will have to work harder to keep from getting isolated. I’m also in a few how-to groups for cooking that I use fairly actively. But you know what? I have lots of cookbooks, and if I can find my phone, well, then I can get together with my friends that way.

As a final note, the irony of deleting Facebook and then immediately blogging about it isn’t lost on me. I’m trying to find other ways to find the balance I seek in my life and find healthier outlets for my energy.

Guest Post: This Year Pinterest Is Going to Make Me a Better Person

P1040069_2Liz is taking a leave of absence from public education to care for her 18 month old and emotionally needy border collie. Before Liz stayed home, she taught every grade from Kindergarten to 8th, but loved middle school because that is where the real changes in life happen.  When she was working, her husband cared for their daughter and then he worked afternoons and nights. Being a mom to her daughter is the best job she has ever had.  Previously, Liz wrote the article Guest Post: Misconceptions about Motherhood.

I don’t remember how exactly I discovered Pinterest, but apparently it was at the same time that everyone else did, too. Even my own mother was telling me about things she was pinning. When I was teaching, I used it to keep track of all my summer and late night research. Then I gradually moved out of the education realm and into pinning things like recipes and garden projects. I just love the internet!

Since I have recently (in the past two weeks) become a Stay At Home Mom, I feel it is my duty to compete with all the awesomeness out there. There’s no awards for being a Stay At Home Mom and I am intensely competitive with myself. Of course there’s no need to go crazy here. I’ll never earn the title super mom and I don’t want it.

Figuring out this mom thing is actually kind of hard. Teaching middle school is sometimes easier believe it or not. I need some kind of structure in my day, which is why I’ve pinned all kinds of calendars and organizational ideas. There’s some great ideas on there. I’m already pinning and planning activities to do with my daughter. Her board alone has 124 pins! Where to start? A tractor made out of cardboard? Reading chairs made from inner tubes? Or a bunch of busy bags to make and toss in the diaper bag? I’ve got about 20 pins with lists of things to do with your toddler. Does that make me a good mother? Someday I’ll have time to read those.

The downside to Pinterest is it is a time sucking, black hole. There’s so many interesting things out there. So many people to follow, so many neat ideas. I’ve got 21 boards and 986 pins and I have tried to keep it down, believe me! If I do one thing a day, it will take me about three years. Of course I keep pinning so there could be no end to this.

I can do yoga with my daughter, that is assuming she stops running around in circles long enough to get downward facing dog with me. I can paint a chapter of a book on a wall, reorganize my pantry (wait, I don’t have a pantry), and make three months worth of freezer meals. I’m out of breath; the whole thing makes me a little manic.

I’ve got to get that kitchen herb garden going and start some seeds in toilet paper roles because it’s biodegradable. So far I’ve saved 4 toilet paper rolls and they are sitting on my soon to be organized desk. Perhaps my husband won’t mind if I build some inexpensive shelves in front of the kitchen window to hold all these plants. Ooh… I can plant tulip bulbs in water and we can watch them grow every day! There’s so much to do and so little time!

Breathe. . . .

Let it go . . . .

It’s just a bunch of pretty pictures and ideas on the internet. I’ll take it slow, one recipe and idea at a time, and if I don’t do all of it or any of it, it doesn’t make me any less of a person. One night I got extra creative and made beef and broccoli in the crockpot and Ramen, from scratch. That’s right, I even made the dough and rolled out the noodles.
Recipe thanks to Katie at the Kitchen Door: http://katieatthekitchendoor.com/2012/10/28/cookbook-review-and-giveaway-japanese-farm-food/

This year I’m going to be a better person. I’ll learn to cook, start composting, improve my garden, and find all kinds of ways to entertain and teach my toddler. Just as soon as I get organized.

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Cultivating Gratitude with a Newborn

In honor of one of my friends who will be having her baby any day now, I thought it might be nice to pull together some of the thoughts I’ve been mulling over on different things that have made transitioning to motherhood easier for me.  I hope this is helpful, not only to her, but to my other mommy friends and readers.

Cultivate Gratitude. I don’t mean thanking your adult friends for helping you.  This goes without saying.  I mean cultivating gratitude toward your baby.  It can be so hard when you’ve been up all night, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you just can’t find a spare second to yourself.  I found myself, with the Grasshopper, focusing on what I wasn’t able to do during the day.  I wasn’t able to eat breakfast.  I didn’t have time to go to the store. I didn’t get a nap. And on and on and on.

I found myself struggling emotionally with how I could manage everything.  I felt like my ability to have a life of my own was slipping away.  I became frustrated and occasionally resentful.  I felt overwhelmed.

But the Grasshopper was patient with me.  That’s the thing about babies.  They are so forgiving.  They won’t stop loving you if you mess up.  They won’t say, “I told you so.”  They won’t hold your mistakes over your head.

She taught me that it wasn’t so important to be perfect.  She taught me to appreciate each moment.  Her patience and joy and love helped me to grow into the mother I am today.

With Cricket, I was able to find something different within myself right away.  Instead of focusing on what I didn’t get to do during the day, I found myself feeling grateful for what I was able to do.  I thanked her every day for letting me take a shower, for letting me eat breakfast, for napping while I drove, for letting me suction her nose without a fuss, for putting her legs down while I changed her diaper, and on and on and on.  It’s amazing how powerful those two words can be.

Try it.  Say those words.  Say them out loud.  Say them when you’re frustrated.  When you’re in the shower and you’ve only just soaped your hair and your baby starts to cry and you know you won’t have time to do anything else except rinse the bubbles and dry off.  Say, “Thank you baby for giving me the time to wash my hair.”  Take a deep breath and let the rest go.  It makes a huge difference.

I am finding gratitude in all parts of my life.  I’m digging deep when my bouncy four year old knocks something off the table.

Thank you Grasshopper.  Thank you for your joy and energy.

I’m finding it when my husband is stressed and grouchy from work.  Thank you Mr. Grasshopper for keeping a roof over our heads.

This gratitude helps me get through my day.

So my advice to new moms is this: Don’t focus on what you didn’t accomplish.  Thank your babies for the small things.  The small moments.  The time to eat a snack or use the restroom or shave your legs.  Find joy in the little things.

And to my daughters?  Thank you.  Thank you both.  Thank you for your patience and your unwavering love.  Thank you for teaching me to be a better person.  You are my two blessings, and I give thanks for you every day.

Afraid of the Dark

The Grasshopper is suddenly afraid of the dark.  Very afraid.

She has been sleeping on her own in her room for almost a year, but suddenly, when it comes time for me to kiss her goodnight, it’s meltdown city.  She also will not go into her room alone to choose her clothes.  Or to the bathroom alone.  Or anywhere alone.  She would rather stand there and pee in her pants* than click on the hall light, click on the bathroom light, and use the toilet.  At 3 in the afternoon.  (*We assume she would pee in her pants.  We’re not willing to humiliate her by putting that to the test.  She’s insistent enough that I’m certain it would end with a puddle on the floor if one of us didn’t intervene.)

Clearly this is not about the dark.

I talked to her about it last night, and, from what I gathered, she is missing some of the attention that we are having to give Cricket.  She feels sad that Cricket is with us all the time while she has to do things on her own more.  Poor kid.  I never lived with a sibling.  I have no idea what she must be going through.

We tried adding more night lights.  No dice.  We tried keeping her door open.  Didn’t work.

But I think we might have finally hit on a solution.

We have a very sweet boxer dog named China (pronounced “Chee-nah”.  She’s nearing old age at 8 years old, and as a working breed dog, she’s needed a job for a long time.  Well, we may have finally found one for her: watching over the Grasshopper.

The trouble is, she’s been trained for so long that she’s not supposed to hang out in the Grasshopper’s room.  She’s unbelievably loving and patient, but you don’t leave a dog with a baby.  Period.

Last night, though, she got the surprise of her life when the Grasshopper and I invited her into bed.  Poor China was confused.  It took a few tries to convince her that she was allowed to stay in the bed with the Grasshopper.  And in the middle of the night, she did her usual pace through the house to check up on things elsewhere.  But overall, I think we’re onto something good here!

I think I will do something special for the both of them and find China a pretty new bed that we can place in the Grasshopper’s room for her to sleep on.  She doesn’t always like to sleep with people.  She gets hot sometimes and just wants her space.

Maybe this new found friendship will be good for both of them.  Goodness knows, China’s been unemployed for far too long.

In Defense of Nail Biters

The Grasshopper has started biting her nails.  She started while I was pregnant, and it’s clear that she’s not going to stop any time soon.  Her dad finds this to be vexing.  He gripes.  He tells her to stop.  He takes her hand out of her mouth.  He’s even started talking about getting some of that nasty tasting nail polish.

He doesn’t understand.  He was never a nail biter.

But I was.  Oh, did I bite my nails.  I bit them right down to the quick.  I bit them until they bled.  When I ran out of fingernail, I would chew the skin around the edges of the nails.  Then I would chew up the inside of my lips.  Then I would bite my toenails.  Yeah, I know.  Gross.  Don’t pretend like you didn’t do gross stuff as a kid.  You know you did!

The nail biting was a compulsion.  I couldn’t stop.

We tried everything.  My Grandma promised me a beautiful ring when I stopped biting my nails.  Didn’t work.  Later, we tried painting my nails with bitter nail polish.  I bit them anyway.  I tried painting my nails with pretty nail polish so they’d be too pretty for me to bite.  I learned to carefully scrape off  the nail polish so I could access the nails beneath and resume biting.  Bandaids over the nails?  Peeled them off, bit, and then carefully stuck them back on again.  Every single trick that they recommend, we tried.  Many of those attempts were attempts I made myself.  It’s not like my parents were harassing me to stop biting my nails or anything.  They had given up on that years ago.

The nail biting was absolutely outside my control.  The more I tried to stop it, the more I chewed.  When I got anxious I chewed.  The attempts to quit made me anxious.  Having adults notice and point it out made me anxious.  All of that fed into the cycle.  Nail biting was just something I did and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  Then I just… stopped.

There was nothing I did to stop.  I just woke up one morning and no longer had the need to bite.  I still felt stressed about things (who doesn’t?) but because I was developmentally ready to stop, the need to chew disappeared and it no longer served as a comfort measure to deal with anxiety.

For me the need to chew disappeared when I was 17 years old.  For some people I think it comes sooner.  For others later.  For a few people, the need never disappears.  And you know what?  Who cares?

Now that the Grasshopper is older and biting her nails, what is the big deal?

I see parents agonizing over this on various parenting message boards, and I’d like to really examine the reasoning for wanting so badly for their kids to stop biting.  Let’s break this down:

  • It looks ugly.  So what?  They are her hands.  If someone is going to judge her based on her fingernails, they’ve got bigger issues than she needs to deal with anyway!  Chewed finger nails aren’t going to keep her from a career in a professional setting.  Unless she applied for a hand modeling gig.  In which case we would probably have a conversation about what her strengths really are.
  • It can be painful.  Oh, yeah.  Chewing down to the quick definitely hurts.  Does it ever!  Part of this is responsibility.  If she’s going to chew, she needs to be prepared for the consequences, and that means that some days her fingers might be sore.  It goes with the territory.  But is it really a huge deal?  I bit my nails until they bled, but it never kept me from enjoying activities.  I just had to take responsibility for what I had done and let them heal for a day or two.
  • What if she gets germs?  Well, she might, but so might a lot of other kids.  She will need to be able to keep her hands washed frequently to keep from spreading or catching any illnesses.
  • If she bites them too far, they could get infected.  It could happen.  Never happened to me, but sure.  It could happen.  We’ll just have to keep an eye on it and enforce the hand washing.
  • It’s a “bad” habit.  Like what?  Like smoking?  Not really.  It’s not causing long term effects.  It’s not hurting anyone.
  • It bugs me.  (This is my husband’s gripe.)  Then you really just need to use your neck and look the other way.  Sorry if I sound a little defensive on that one, but as a long-term nail biter, this particular line of reasoning really gets under my skin.

Look, here’s the thing: No amount of us harping on her, offering rewards, putting tabasco sauce (thanks for that idea internet. gross.), or threatening is going to stop her from biting her nails.  She can’t control it, and if we bug her about it we will just be feeding into the anxiety cycle.  Some day, she will probably grow out of it, but in the meantime, there’s no major harm being done.

See? I stopped. They don't look too bad do they?
See? I stopped. They don’t look too bad do they?

So please, if you have a kid who bites his or her nails, just leave them alone and let them grow out of it on their own.  The more you push, the more they’ll bite.  Please don’t feed the cycle.

So how about it?  Are there any other nail biters out there?   Any parents of nail biters?  I’m interested to hear your story and find out if you (or your child) eventually stopped biting and how it happened.

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Cue the Mommy Guilt

Now I know that I wrote about guilt last week, but this is less of a spinoff from that post and more of a spinoff from Tuesday’s post: All Things to All People.

Guilt that comes from the outside is easy for me to deal with.  Guilt trips are simply a way some people try to manipulate others.  When confronted by someone attempting to manipulate my emotions, it’s easy for me to mentally raise my middle finger in their direction and leave the guilt aside.

When the guilt comes from within as a result of me not living up to my own personal goals and ideals, it’s much more difficult to deal with.

Some things I currently feel mommy guilt about:

  • Feeding the Grasshopper crappy food: Monday-cold leftover pizza and a bowl of honey nut cheerios; Tuesday-A ham, cheese, and mayo sandwich and ice cream; Wednesday-cold leftover pizza
  • Letting the Grasshopper watch way too much TV – TV as babysitter?  Yup.
  • Not getting down and playing interactively with her
  • Parking my butt on the couch and encouraging her to entertain herself
  • Taking her to daycare with her hair uncombed and her teeth unbrushed

Okay, most of these are seriously temporary.  Mr. Grasshopper is travelling for work for a few days this week (comes back today thank god!), and we’re in survival mode.  For the record, he usually cooks nutritious and tasty meals, plays vigorously with her at every opportunity, and makes sure her teeth and hair get brushed in the morning.  Also, for the record, she does have a toothbrush at daycare, so when she arrives, she can run back and brushes her teeth then.

Overall, I know that this is stuff that I can’t really control right now.  At the end of the day, we’re doing well if I can stick food on plates and get the dishes loaded in the dishwasher.  I’m proud of myself each time I have managed to get her bathed this week.  Reaching into the tub is hard.  I’m trying really hard to give myself credit for the little stuff like that.

But we do watch way too much TV.  I try to assuage that guilt by making sure we’re watching the kids channels that don’t show any commercials.  I just wish I could play with her more.  I wish this week could have been fun girlie time with walks/trike rides through the neighborhood with the dog, fun bubble baths, painted toenails, and special activities.

That’s just not in the cards right now.

Right now, we’re doing well to get out the door in the morning and eat food at night.

I can’t wait to not be sick anymore.  I hate the way hyperemesis gravidarum is keeping me from being the mom I want to be.

Exploring California: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Saturday, we took a short road trip north to visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History with the Grasshopper and her Grandma and Grandpa.

The Grasshopper had a great time.  We let her lead the way and explore the museum as she felt inclined.  As she encountered different exhibits, we talked to her about them by asking a series of questions.  We’ve found that, for her, this is a good way for her to learn.

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For example, the museum has a blue whale skeleton at the entrance that you can walk into and touch.  She loved this and wanted to be right up in the bones.  This gave us the opportunity to talk to her about bones.  Understand that about half of the books we read together are science-related, so she’s been building on this knowledge for a while.  This is a chance for her to see the things we’ve read about up close.

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What do bones do? Help us stand up.  Can you find the whale’s ribs (she’s been talking about ribs lately)?  That’s right!  What do our ribs do?  Protect my heart.  Where is your heart?  Where do you think this whale’s heart was?  I think you’re right?  Do you think it was a big heart or a little heart?  Biiiiiiiig heart!  I think you’re right!  Do you remember if a whale is a mammal or a fish?  I don’t know.  Well… let’s think about it.  Do whales breathe fresh air in their lungs?  Uh-huh.  …  Mammal!  That’s right Grasshopper!  What do you think baby whales eat?  Do you think they eat fish?  mmmmm…. No, they drink their mommy’s milk.  That’s right!  Do they drink a lot or a little do you think?  Remember, a baby whale is bigger than Papa!  A lot!  I bet you’re right!  I bet it takes a lot of milk for a baby whale to grow up big and strong.

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Then she ran to the whale’s head and had Grandpa lift her up into the head.

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Grasshopper, do you see teeth in this whale’s mouth?  No. No teeth.  What do you think it uses to eat?  I don’t know.  It uses a special kind of part in its mouth called baleen to eat a teeny-tiny animal called krill.  Do you want to know how baleen works?  It’s like when Mommy makes pasta.  You know at the end how Mommy pours the pasta through the strainer in the sink and the water flows out through the holes, but the pasta stays in the strainer so we can eat it?  It works just like that.

Aside from the whale bones, the other big highlight (for all of us!) was the butterfly exhibit.  I’ve been to a lot of butterfly exhibits.  Usually, they’re huge, glass pyramids with exotic greenery and lush waterfalls.  This exhibit was a simple building with net ceiling and walls to contain the butterflies.  Inside were plants that can grow happily in the local environment.

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It was the smallest butterfly exhibit I’ve ever been to.  It was also by far the best one I’ve ever seen.  The Grasshopper was able to have many close encounters with the butterflies.  She even found one that landed on my back!  And another tried to land on her pink shoe!  It was very exciting.

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The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History isn’t a child-oriented museum, but by letting the Grasshopper lead and explaining things in ways that she can understand, we were able to bring her into the experience and make it enjoyable for her.

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Sure, we didn’t get to see the hall of minerals, which I was actually pretty interested in.  We also spent way more time looking at dioramas than I probably would have.  But that doesn’t really matter.  By letting her lead and teaching to what she was interested in, she learned much more and had a much better time than she otherwise would have.  We all did!

 

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NY Times Article on Travelling with a Baby

I just wanted to pop in quickly to share the article I found from the New York Times.  The author details her experience travelling to Southeast Asia (lucky!) with their baby.  She really nails it on describing how a baby draws you into a culture.  While our experiences haven’t been quite as extreme as there’s, the similarity is there.

Traveling in Southeast Asia With a Rock-Star Baby by Jennifer Bleyer

The moral of the story?  Take your baby with you!  It’s awesome!

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